Overview

Property development is increasing on Alberta’s lakeshores. Shoreland development can have cumulative, detrimental effects on lakes and lakeshore areas. Concerns include:

  • water quality changes
  • erosion of banks and shores
  • user conflicts
  • increased boating
  • loss of habitat and natural shorelines

Development approval

Landowners must obtain authorization before modifying shorelands. This ensures that:

  • all aquatic and water resource management issues are reflected in the approval
  • any unanticipated issues are addressed before construction
  • construction does not occur during sensitive times when fish spawn or birds nest

Common lakeshore activities

Aquatic plant control

Aquatic vegetation beds in the shallow, littoral (shallow submerged) zone of a lake are essential to the lake’s health and ecology. Aquatic plants:

  • provide breeding, nesting and shelter areas for birds and fish
  • limit shore erosion by significantly reducing the erosive energy of waves
  • maintain water quality by trapping and stabilizing sediment

Waterfront property owners may wish to clear aquatic plants to:

  • place piers or boat lifts on lakebeds
  • make boat lanes to access open water
  • create swimming areas

The cutting of aquatic vegetation is governed by the following:

In general, a waterfront landowner may only remove a 4 meter wide lane of aquatic vegetation if it is required to install a dock in order to get a boat into open water. In all other circumstances an authorization may be required.

Aquatic invasive plants may be removed at any time to stop or limit their spread. The list of invasive aquatic plants that can be removed is found under Item 2 of the Schedule in the Fisheries (Alberta) Act.

If you spot an aquatic invasive species, call 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT) or report it on EDDMapS Alberta.

Learn more about common invasive aquatic plants.

Beaches, beach renovations and sand dumping

Very few Alberta lakes have shores of natural sand. Beaches usually need to be constructed. Depositing sand on the shore and shallow lake bed can:

  • cover good fish habitat or nesting areas
  • introduce weeds, fine sediment and other harmful substances
  • wash away quickly to other areas of the shore or into the lake Beach construction is generally allowed on private property but must be located above the ordinary high water mark or bank of a lake. Public beaches may also be approved on Alberta lakes and in provincial parks.

Docks and related mooring structures

There are 2 ways seasonal docks are authorized in Alberta:

  1. By the general permission created by a disturbance standard if the standard is followed; or
  2. By a specific authorization issued by the department.

The Alberta government has introduced a disturbance standard to simplify and streamline the process for placing temporary seasonal mooring structures.

The disturbance standard eliminates the need for waterfront, semi-waterfront and municipal waterfront property owners to apply for an annual authorization, provided their docks, boat lifts, swimming platforms and buoy anchors meet a set of standard requirements.

Learn more about the disturbance standard:

Owners of mooring structures that do not meet the disturbance standard still require an authorization from Environment and Parks.

You can apply for an authorization using the Public Lands Act Application for Temporary Field Authorization – Personal Use Recreational Docks form, located under the Temporary Field Authorization and Disposition Operational Approvals section at:

If you are not the waterfront or semi-waterfront landowner, you will need to provide written consent of the waterfront or semi-waterfront landowner before an authorization may be issued. In many instances, this will be the local municipality if the waterfront property is a municipal reserve.

A User Guide for Dock Authorizations is available to assist in completing and submitting an application to the department.

Applications for dock authorizations are to be submitted directly to, or by email to the department’s regional office based on which region the water body is located in. A contact map is available to assist in choosing the correct office location.

Dredging

Removing fill or sediment from a lake can have a significant effect on the aquatic environment. You must obtain prior approval before dredging.

Environmental reserves

Local municipalities may own land that sits between the lake and private property. These environmental or municipal reserves:

  • maintain public access to the lake
  • provide a buffer area between developed areas and the lake
  • are usually maintained in a natural state

Local municipalities govern and approve activities on reserve lands. AEP must issue an approval to the municipality for any work that affects the lakebed and shore next to reserve land.

Erosion protection

Waterfront landowners have a common-law right to protect their land from erosion. They may construct erosion protection features up to the natural boundary of their property. Approval from the Crown is required to construct these works if they disturb the natural boundary, bank or the bed of the water body.

Some sites will need a structurally engineered solution to erosion. The design should consider:

  • the erosion potential of the shore and bank
  • the expected wave environment for the site

Many other sites can reduce land erosion by:

  • allowing native vegetation to regrow
  • planting vegetation to add structural stability

To determine the erosion potential of a site, see:

Erosion Potential (EP) Scores and Categories
EP Score Erosion Potential Erosion Control
0-20 Low Allow natural regeneration to occur. Allow emergent vegetation to re-grow. Scores at upper end of range, use bio-engineering techniques.
20-35 Medium Use bio-engineering and armouring to control erosion. Requires engineering design and review.
35 + High Use engineered solution. Requires engineering design and review.

Marinas

Inland marinas

Inland marinas are constructed by excavating private land to create a basin next to a water body. They:

  • do not require a long-term Public Lands Act disposition
  • require written approval to breach the bank of the lake to fill the basin
  • need written approval to dredge an access channel in the lake
  • may require additional municipal and/or federal approvals

Open water marinas

Open water marinas are constructed directly in a water body. They:

  • often involve construction of a breakwater to protect the harbour basin
  • require a formal Public Lands Act disposition to occupy the lakebed
  • need a development plan for new or expanding marinas

The approval process for open water marinas includes:

  • a pre-application meeting to clarify regulatory requirements
  • public notification to determine if the proposal is in the public interest
  • a multi-jurisdictional review of the detailed plan

Permanent structures

Permanent structures include:

  • breakwaters
  • groynes (trap sand and hold it on the beach)
  • piers

Permanent structures placed on a lakebed can:

  • significantly alter the movement of water
  • affect the erosion, transport and deposit of sediment along a shore
  • interfere with the public's right of navigation and access to and around the shores of a lake
All permanent structures occupying the beds and shores of a lake require a formal disposition. In general, permanent structures are not approved for private use. They may be approved for commercial or public use.

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